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Ex-staffers at kids’ camp pull back the curtain on ‘lethal combination’

via ABC
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The death of a 12-year-old at a North Carolina wilderness therapy camp has brought to light a history of lawsuits and allegations dating back over a decade, including cases of sexual and physical abuse.

The camp, Trails Carolina, has faced multiple lawsuits, with one alleging negligence leading to sexual assault of a 14-year-old camper.

“Alec Landing dying back in 2014 was a perfect example of how wilderness therapy programs are not regulated enough to ensure safety, and considering yet another perfect example is popping up 10 years later, with little to show for any lessons learned in between, is extremely concerning,” Unsilenced CEO Meg Applegate said.

The Department of Health and Human Services has cited deficiencies at the camp, raising concerns about its operations.

This incident has reignited debates about the safety and regulation of wilderness therapy camps, with past instances of deaths and deceptive practices coming to light.

“So, how the loss of life has not yet led to stricter regulations is beyond me. I don’t think things will be able to change until legislators figure out how many dead children it is going to take before we start to prioritize legislation that protects them from harm,” Applegate said.

Former camp attendees and staff have highlighted issues of accountability, negligence, and misleading advertising at such facilities.

“I do feel like wilderness therapy can be effective, and it was for me, but it was never because of my therapist. There is a lack of accountability, negligence from management, neglect from the top. That’s where a lot of the issues come from. The majority of the staff onsite truly care and want to help. Obviously, there are some bad seeds, but the root of the problems is from the higher-ups in management,” a former Trails Carolina student said.

“When you go to the website, and it shows kids fishing, that’s false advertisement. These kids aren’t fishing because you’re afraid they are going to use the pole as a weapon and kill someone. You see kids riding in canoes, that’s false advertisement. Those kids aren’t riding in canoes because they may go out on the lake and try to kill themselves. Those kids aren’t repelling or going on mountain hikes because you’re afraid they are going to push someone off the cliff,” a former staff member said.

“There were some really troubled teens that would say they couldn’t wait to kill the new student, and they treated it like a sick game. And when you mix certain students together and don’t know how to deal with them, it’s a lethal combination,” one former staffer said.

Following the recent death, all children have been removed from Trails Carolina, prompting criticism and calls for transparency from former attendees and staff members.

“It was determined that action needed to be taken to ensure the health and safety of the children,” the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services stated. “Parents have been notified and children will be temporarily taken into care of Transylvania County DSS.”

“This negligent and reckless move by the state denied parents the opportunity to continue to care for their children in the appropriate manner,” a Trails Carolina spokesperson said.

“I think right now, if you’re an organization that’s supposedly caring for dozens of kids, your responsibility is to be open. There really needs to be transparency and communication,” the former student said.

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